Remember Why You Started

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Writers: Are you looking for inspiration?

I’m “live” at Writer Unboxed today in a humbling post.

Remember Why You Started

 

Pinterest for Writers

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I am a visual person. To write something well, I have to visit as many places in my books as possible. I spend hours scouring archives–in person and online–to find photographs of my subjects, their settings, their muses. Before I write I “cast” my books with living actors. Even when I read, I underline, scribble notes, highlight, draw pictures. I have to be able to see what it is I’m trying to capture with words.

Even if you are a writer who does not need much visual stimulation, you might consider your reader. Pinterest can be a powerful tool for helping her to see your characters, your settings, and your time period. It can supplement a work in a powerful way that continues the conversation even after the last pages are turned. Whether viewed before reading or after, your pin boards can enrich the entire story experience.

Here is a screenshot of my Pinterest page:

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You’ll find images associated with each of my books, day trips to my book settings, tidbits for readers, casting for movies (HELLO GEORGE CLOONEY WITH A MUSTACHE AS HEMINGWAY!) Lower down the page are boards for my own interests–house projects, decor, etc. Make sure the boards you want to share with the public are featured first.

Starting a Pinterest page is simple, and once you have an account set up, the red Pinterest icon will appear on the upper right side of your browser menu:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 8.16.50 AMTo add photos from pages you search to your boards, simple click the icon at any website you visit. It will arrange a screen of images that may be pinned. Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 8.19.57 AM

Click on the image you want to pin, and a menu will pop up asking which Pinterest board you’d like to add it to, or you may create a new board. Add a description, hit enter, and voila!

Warning: Pinterest is addictive. You will find friends there. They will have great boards. Three hours will pass and you will find yourself scouring hundreds of images for brunch recipes, book recommendations, window treatment options, fantasy vacations, and cutest cat breeds–and you might not even like cats! Consider setting a timer to pull yourself out of the vortex of distraction.

Finally, consider sharing your boards. Post a couple times a month on your blogs and social media accounts with boards that have to do with your books. This will give you a chance to engage your readers and continue bringing your work to life.

Some excellent author Pinterest pages:

Tatiana de Rosnay

Karen White

Ariel Lawhon

Marianne O’Hara

Beth Hoffman

David Abrams

Who are your favorite authors on Pinterest? Are you on Pinterest? Do you have any helpful tips for making Pinterest meaningful to your readers? Happy Pinning!

Q&A with author Maryanne O’Hara

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As the year closes, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time talking with other writers about process. It seems that many of my peers are involved in first drafts the way that I am, and no matter how many books one has under her pen, it is always like starting over.

One of my favorite writers, Maryanne O’Hara, was kind enough to answer some questions for me on her process, her reading recommendations, and her advice for about-to-be-published novelists. I enjoyed this interview very much, especially because there is comfort in hearing respected writers discuss the struggles and challenges of the work. I hope you enjoy it, too.

  1. From suffocating small-town life, to anti-Semitism, to unrealized ambition, you tackle many challenging themes in CASCADE, yet the novel never feels overburdened. Did you plan all of the plot lines before you began the first draft, or did the issues arise during the writing process? 

Oh, I wish I could plan out all my plotlines ahead of time! But until I develop the characters, until I discover who they are and what they want, I am feeling my way around in the dark. Once I see them, and have a (very) rough draft going, I begin to try to map out the story arcs, which is scary yet fun, and really makes me focus on what the heck I’m trying to do. I like stories that have a lot of layers; trying to weave them into a coherent and compelling narrative is a challenge I enjoy.

  1. Do you read a lot of fiction, or do you try to avoid it when writing your own? Who are some of your favorite writers?

I must say that when I am actively writing, I really cannot read anything less than stellar prose. I grew up loving the short stories of John Cheever, Alice Munro, and William Trevor, and so I often will read an “old-friend” favorite passage to get myself in the mood to write. I have so many favorite books that it is hard to choose, but I can say that for 2014 I would particularly recommend EUPHORIA, by my dear friend Lily King, which was just named one of the New York Times 5 best fiction titles of the year. Lily is incapable of writing anything but beautiful, wise prose, and she’s been a longtime inspiration to me. She has an amazing work ethic, much like yours, Erika! Another recent book that I deeply admired was WE ARE CALLED TO RISE, by Laura McBride. The kind of book that made me happy to be alive. Oh, and I loved NORAH WEBSTER, by one of my all-time favorite writers, Colm Toibin. Who just happened to grow up in Wexford, Ireland, where my husband grew up…

  1. CASCADE was the Boston Globe’s inaugural Book Club selection. Do you meet with book clubs in person or on Skype? What has surprised you about meeting with book clubs? 

The Boston Globe Book Club was a wonderful surprise, a much-appreciated honor. The Globe hosted meet-ups throughout the summer and I was able to meet with so many new readers, which is my favorite part of publishing. I do indeed visit book clubs—in person when I can, and via Skype, which allows me to connect with readers far from home. One memorable Skype meetup involved the book club putting its computer on a lazy Susan, and spinning it around so I could talk to everyone.

The most surprising thing about meeting with book clubs? Contrary to all the talk about book clubs being an excuse for people to drink wine and chat, I have found that most clubs are very dear to their members. Thank God the world still is full of interesting people who love to discuss books!

  1. Can you reveal anything about your current work in progress?

It’s a book about storytelling and the elusive nature of memory. I’m still in the “figuring it out” stage.

  1. What advice do you have for a writer preparing for publication of his/her first novel?

First off, I would say congratulations, and do try to enjoy it! I recently looked back at my journal entries around the time I was finishing CASCADE and they were somber, realistic, anxious. I knew how hard it would be to secure an agent and publish a book. There’s a lot of elation when you get that contract, and a whole new set of emotional ups and downs. Research all the ways you can help yourself sell that book. And then, no matter how well or poorly things go after the launch, try to hold onto why you write in the first place, and keep writing.

 

Good advice! Thank you, Maryanne.

Book Clubs: Feel free to contact Maryanne to Skype!

Writers, did anything resonate with you? Are you a plotter or a “pantser”? What fabulous fiction would you recommend reading while writing? 

Celebs Read Mean Tweets (or Authors Write Mean Reviews)

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“Robuck has all the syntax of a three-legged cow.” ~Snarky Reader, Online Review Site

Every so often, I pour myself a glass of wine and enact the virtual self-cutting that is reading online reviews of my work. When I self-published my first book in 2009, the negative reader reviews used to wound me. They hurt my feelings. I obsessed over them. Five years later, I am a bit more hardened, but I have to be in a certain light and ironic frame of mind to read them. If I am gloomy, it is not a good idea to patrol the one and two-star reviews.

Last week, however, the above line from a one-star review made me laugh out loud. It was a good and memorable insult. While I do not agree with it, I appreciate the humor and general savagery because I have to confess something: I would rather a nasty one-star review with zingers like this to a recent three-star review that said, “Meh.”

“Meh.”

Years of research, travel, lost sleep, agonizing, imaging, theorizing, writing, rewriting, and rewriting earned me a “meh.”

Please, readers, if the book does not move you to a positive or negative passion of some kind, do not review it.

But back to my snarky friend, I have seen some authors recently reading mean reviews in the style of Jimmy Kimmel’s popular “Celebs Read Mean Tweets” feature, and thought it would be fun to have a laugh over some particularly bad review stories.

So writers, if you are feeling up to it (play “The Eye of the Tiger” if you need to get pumped), please tell me your funny one-star reviews. Even if these criticisms make us giggle, they burrow somewhere in the brain stem to torture us when we sit down to write. Perhaps if we put them on paper, we can release them from our consciousness and have a laugh together.

Cheers!

Eight Ways to Make Time for Writing

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My new novel FALLEN BEAUTY launched on Tuesday, and I have been overwhelmed with kind words and encouragement. It is a special thing to release a book, and I am blessed to have a network of family and friends who support me in my endeavors.

Inevitably, I get asked a question at launch time, at book clubs, on the sidelines of the hockey rink, and on social media: How Do You Do It All? Sometimes it is asked nicely, other times with suspicion, but it is always asked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question, and I want to qualify everything I’m about to say with the fact that I feel like I’m a mess–a Tazmanian-devil, swirling, hyper, scatterbrained mess. My house is often untidy. I’m forgetful. Sometimes I do things like throw my cell phone in the laundry basket to take downstairs, and instead of plugging it into the wall, I toss it in the washing machine and dryer with the clothes.

But that is not the answer people want to hear. They literally want to know how I balance writing and family life, with a husband and three children. As many of you know, there is no such thing as perfect balance. Sometimes I neglect my writing, other times, I neglect life. I try to alternate that time so that over time, something like balance is achieved. I also have learned how to save time, and my list below shows eight ways I save time and allot it for writing, so that I can stay on track with deadlines.

  • I don’t go to the gym. I have a 10 minute nightly routine I do before I go to bed.
  • I only watch TV I’ve DVRd while folding laundry. (Downton Abbey or Dancing with the Stars.)
  • I don’t take on classroom parent/PTA positions. (This is an area that I struggle with and feel judged about at times.)
  • I limit lunches out of the house.
  • I write 1000-2000 words a day. (Or revise 1000-2000 words a day.) If an average novel is around 90,000 words, you can see how a book can be written fairly quickly if there is enough discipline to write in 1000 word intervals.
  • I research the next book while writing the current.
  • I combine book tour travels with research trips.
  • I work at night. (Insomnia is a family curse. I have learned how to use it to my advantage.)

The bottom line is that this is a job. I happen to love my job, but it still requires discipline and a schedule. These tips might not be right for everyone, and I am certainly not saying they are how one should make time. Some of these sacrifices feel like sacrifices, but I have to make priorities that work for me.

Are any of these tips helpful to you? I would love to hear your suggestions for making time for writing.

**Photo Courtesy of BreakFreePhotography at DeviantArt.com

Count Down to Book Launch…

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My new novel, CALL ME ZELDA, will be published on May 7th by NAL/Penguin. It begins in Baltimore in 1932 when Zelda Fitzgerald checks into the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins, and takes place during the aftermath of the Fitzgerald party years. Through Zelda’s relationship with a fictional psychiatric nurse, the book explores the meaning of friendship, love, and how we heal from emotional injury.

CALL ME ZELDA is a book that I’ve held close to my heart for a long time, inspired by my fascination with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and by the nurses I’ve known in my life (grandmother, mother-in-law, aunt, sister-in-law, friends…), who give so much of themselves to their patients. It also comes from my compassion for those who suffer mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder, the ways they are often misunderstood, and the pain of the family members caring for them.

It is the first novel I’ve written in the first person point of view, and as a writer, that takes one very deeply into the heart and mind of the characters, for better or worse. There is an intimacy, an immediacy to first person, and this novel marks my maiden voyage of many, I think, into this point of view.

There are links on my website to pre-order CALL ME ZELDA, if you are so inclined. If you read the book and enjoy it, I invite you to post a review at your favorite online book site. My website also has listings of my upcoming book tour and festival appearances. I hope to see you on the road!

http://www.erikarobuck.com

 

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 10,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.